Essay on A Brief History of Central America by Hector Perez-Brignoli

Chapter I The Land and the People
The main points of the chapter are the following ones:
1 The environmental conditions of Central America are rather favorable for agriculture and farming although it is a land of contrasts. There are tropical forests, chains of volcanoes, mountainous highlands, steps, no navigable rivers, except one San Juan which makes a border between Casta Rica and Nicaragua. The climate is moderate. The soils have constant drainage problems.(p.1)
2 There were several good ports. Earthquakes and volcano eruptions along the Pacific Coast, frequent hurricanes along the Atlantic ocean often caused damages(p.2)
3 Poverty and the limited economic resources characterize Central America. Farming was the main occupation of inhabitants since Pre-Columbian period. They exported crops. Later coffee business took the first position in the economy.(p.7)
4 The plundering of natural resources such as pillage of forests and wildlife took place in Central America. Cutting forests made it possible to flourish lumber industry controlled by the British and US companies(p.8)
5 There was an obvious class division: ruling class exploited peasants. There was also race discrimination. African settlements and Indian ones suffered greatly.(p.9)
6 The Catholic Church had the greatest ideological power.(p.9)
Religious art expresses the culture of that times and dances, ballads, songs were not preserved in the written form.(p.14) Urban development was represented by theater, literature, plastic arts and music.(p.16)
Critical questions:

1 What were relations between Panama and the USA in the 20-th century? Why the USA were interested in such relations?
2 What was the aim of the Panamanian nationalist movement in 1959 and in 1964? Who was at the head of it?
Reaction: I think that although Central America had great problems in politics and economy it gained the name of Banana Republics due to outside influences of such countries as the USA and Britain which made it possible to develop economy and at the same time to improve life of local population.
Chapter II The Colonial Past (1520-1821)
1 The Pre-Columbian civilizations in Central America showed great diversity: Indian settlements who had Mesoamerican culture under hegemony of the Mayas and culture of Caribbean and South American type. Mexican culture existed during the Conquest.(p.11)
2 The settlements of the Christianized Indians were moved into Chiapas, Guatemala, Honduras in 1550. It was done in order to fight against enslavement of Indians. They had to pay tribute to the Crown.(p.39)
3 In Verapaz Indians suffered from exploitation, violence and terror. This region was called the Land of Wars. The peaceful Christianization was undertaken in 1537.(p.42) Harsh conditions of work, epidemics led to the fact that many natives died at a young age.(p.43)
4 In the 17-th century Central America was represented as a typical colonial society.(p.44)
Growth of Spanish cities, numerous plantations, cattle production, wars with Indians, export of indigo, cacao, silver can characterize this period.(p.45)
5 The influence of Church was enormous in colonial society.(p.50) Piracy, plague, epidemics, hunger, shortage of food, damages from major earthquakes were the key points at the end of the 17-th century.(p.51)
6 The 18-th century gave an economic recovery to Central America. There was growing of population, arrival of immigrants from Spain, the development of trade and production, penetrating of Englishtenment into educational system and everyday city life.(p.54) Free trade which was decreed in 1778 brought Guatemala great benefits. (p.62)
Critical questions:
1 What were the rules in the Kingdom of Guatemala concerning the Christianized Indians?(p.39)
2 Why did the Church play an important role in the colonial society of Central America? Can you explain the meaning of its great power?(p.50)
Reaction: Having studied this chapter, I should say that although the native population of Central America suffered greatly not only from violence and hard labor but also from different diseases, Spanish influence and English presence they were ready to begin fighting for their independence. The territory of Central America was rather large. Moreover, it had all the chances to be independent and to live a happy life without military actions and foreign influences.

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